STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
For most children, staying healthy means staying on schedule for immunizations. That's also true in adulthood, but many people just don't get them. Turns out, this is not such a hard problem to address. Here's NPR's Patti Neighmond.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: Researchers looked at the effectiveness of reminders like this.
JULIE JACOBSON VANN: Telephone, letter, postcard, text message, auto dialer.
NEIGHMOND: Julie Jacobson Vann with the University of North Carolina headed the research. She says these reminders meant 8 percent more people got vaccinated. Now, that may not sound like a lot, but...
VANN: Given that everybody needs vaccinations, or almost everyone, it can mean a huge difference in the number of people that get vaccinated.
NEIGHMOND: Literally millions of people when you consider the size of the U.S. population. As for the most effective reminder...
VANN: The old-fashioned personalized telephone call where somebody personally calls someone and lets them know about the benefits of vaccinations and invites them to come in and get vaccinated.
NEIGHMOND: People who got these were nearly twice as likely to get vaccinated compared to those who got no reminders. The next best reminder - snail mail or a text message. The results of the study are published in the Cochrane review. Now, in the U.S., most children get their vaccines except when it comes to the flu. And among adults those 65 and older who are at risk of severe complications from the flu often don't get the shot. Vanderbilt University infectious disease specialist William Schaffner says that's unfortunate because now there are two vaccines custom designed to work better for older patients.
WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: As we get older, we become more physically frail, so does our immune system. It doesn't work as well. But these vaccines that are formulated for people age 65 and older give more punch to the immune system.
NEIGHMOND: And then there's the 50 to 64-year-old population - less than half of them get the flu vaccine. Take Marian Smith.
MARIAN SMITH: I usually always get it - not this year. I missed the flu shot this year.
NEIGHMOND: Smith is 58 years old. She says logistics at work made it difficult. Will she still try to get the shot? Probably not, she says.
SMITH: Of course, you could get it right here at the grocery store. But I just didn't get it. I don't know. I can't tell you why.
NEIGHMOND: Maybe a nudge from her doctor might have done the trick. As it is now, researchers say, most doctors don't send out any immunization reminders. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
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